As writing center consultants, our main “job” is assisting clients with their writing, whether that writing is an essay or a video project. However, at times, it is necessary to focus not on the product (writing) brought in by clients, but on the body (the client) that brought in the product. While I am not suggesting that focusing on client writing is not important, I am suggesting that the very bodies that write these documents are affected by the same discourses that impact us all, and it is these discourses that can, and often do, show up both in client writing and in client consultations.
The majority of our MSU clients are, indeed, students of the university. These students are often given challenging assignments asking them to write about various issues ranging from more common topics (e.g. Why did you choose to come to college?) to more complex topics (e.g. Do you believe queer bodies should be protected under anti-discrimination laws?). When clients encounter these types of assignments, client biases—intentional or unintentional—often reveal themselves in writing. However, while tutors may be urged to discuss the biases within the text, I argue we need to interrogate and question the biases within students. By interrogate, I do not mean to suggest that clients who express racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and so on in their writing are intending to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or classist—though at times, they most certainly are. I do suggest that clients, just like consultants, are impacted by the very same discourses surrounding these and other sets of people, cultures, and careers.
These discourses perpetuated by the media, the government, the police, the justice system, the educational system, and yes, the family, live within our clients as they live in us. In other words, while we live in systems of oppression, systems of oppression live in us. Therefore, to help to begin to cut the threads of a dominant system and its discourse, we should begin to ask clients “Who told you this?” “What brings you to this conclusion about these sets of people, culture, and so on?” as well as educating them through literature (scholarly); pop culture (media intended to disrupt certain dominant narratives); and conversation (with consultants when in the consultation). It is easy to focus on the product (text), especially in a capitalist society that seeks to own and in some ways has commodified its entire populace. It is harder to focus on the commodified bodies—the client and the consultant—who write problematic texts that can be harmful to a community of people, as well as to the client. How else do clients begin to question the complex bodies who produce problematic, if not utterly offensive, text documents? And how might questioning the body instead of the text enhance, or even lessen, the effectiveness of the consultation?